Kansas Is 'Home' For Fans Celebrating 80th Anniversary Of 'The Wizard Of Oz'

Oct 31, 2019

The Wizard of Oz, considered one of the most viewed films of all time, turns 80 this year.

For the last 16 years, a tiny town in northeast Kansas has embraced the appeal of the MGM classic.

The Oz Museum, located downtown Wamego, draws 35,000 fans annually from all 50 states and 45 countries. It’s filled with all things Oz.

Oz Museum Curator, Chris Glasgow says the Munchkin costumes on display were worn by brothers, Eugene and Eulie David.
Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW

Even a member of the Lollipop Guild was at one point a frequent visitor to the museum. Oz Museum curator Chris Glasgow says munchkin actor Jerry Maren left his mark on the venue.

"We have his handprints, footprints, and his signature in our Walk of Fame in front of the theatre," Glasgow says. "Unfortunately, he passed away about two years ago, at the age of 98."

Created in 2003, the museum contains the largest permanent public display of Oz artifacts in the world.

The Oz Museum has close to 18,000 pieces in its archives, which allows the musuem to change things out. Nearly 2,000 items are on display at any given time.

Earlier this year, Oz fans gathered inside the museum for the unveiling of a newly acquired artifact: an original winkie spear from the 1939 movie.

Oz Museum executive director Clint Stueve says the spear has been in circulation for 80 years.

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW

"It’s found a new home at the Oz Museum and we hope to take very good care of it and it brings joy to Oz fans for many years to come," he says. "We are just very grateful that we have it here now."

The winkie spear is among the original artifacts on display. Glasgow says set props weren’t always kept back when the film was made.

“They would use them over and over again until they fell apart," he says. "Miss Gulch’s bike was used in movies until it was nothing but trash. Glenda the Good Witch’s dress was used in so many other movies which is why it’s hard to come by original artifacts from the film.

"So when we can find them we do everything we can to bring them into the museum permanently."

The Oz Museum also includes other original artifacts such as eyeglasses worn by Miss Gulch, a one-of-a-kind jeweled brooch worn by Glinda the Good Witch, and two munchkin costumes worn by the Davis brothers in the iconic film.

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW

Although artifacts from the film are hard to come by, Oz historian John Fricke says the lasting impact of the film itself was felt long before the age of home video and streaming.

"As early as 1970, they were saying The Wizard of Oz had been seen by more people than any other entertainment in history," Fricke says. "Just last year, it was voted by a panel of experts as the most influential movie of all time, that there are more references to The Wizard of Oz in other films than in any other picture."

Lynda Yelnick fondly remembers going to see the movie when she was 5 years old, then years later, taking her own 5-year-old son. She said they both buried their faces during what she remembered as the scary witch scenes.

This year, Yelnick and her son finally made it to the Oz Museum. She wanted to be sure to come and celebrate the 80th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz.

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW

"I waited,” Yelnick says. "I wanted to come for the 80th. I always wanted to come here, and this to me is like, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like Oz, Wamego, and I’m thrilled.

"As old as I am, you never outgrow The Wizard of Oz."

Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.